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Many pet food brands label their products as being “human-grade,” but what does this really mean? Is human-grade dog food safer or healthier than traditional pet food?

Let’s take a look at the ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging requirements that pet foods claim to meet when they use the term “human-grade,” and whether or not they offer any real benefits to pets.

What Is Human-Grade Dog Food?

Until recently, the term “human-grade” has not been well-defined when it comes to pet food, but in 2018, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) tried to clear up the confusion. AAFCO is the advisory body that develops standards for pet food labels and ingredient definitions for the pet food industry.

According to AAFCO:

A claim that something is "human-grade" or "human-quality" implies that the article being referred to is "edible" for people in legally defined terms….  For a product to be human edible, all ingredients in the product must be human edible and the product must be manufactured, packed and held in accordance with federal regulations in 21 CFR 110, Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packing, or Holding Human Food. If these conditions exist, then human-grade claims may be made.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees 21 CFR 110 and is following a similar protocol for determining if pet foods can use the term “human-grade” on their labels.

Despite these clarifications, you might find dog food manufacturers who say that their products are made from “human-grade ingredients.” This implies that while some or all of their ingredients may have started out as being fit for human consumption, somewhere along the manufacturing, packing, and holding process, 21 CFR 110 standards were not adhered to, and the final product can’t be labeled as "human-grade dog food.”

Now that clear guidelines are available, the FDA may soon begin to take notice of these sorts of infractions, but pet parents must decide for themselves whether the distinction between human-grade dog foods and those made from human-grade ingredients is important to them. 

Benefits of Human-Grade Dog Food

The standards used to regulate human food production are more meticulous than those applied to pet food production. If a manufacturer’s goal is to stay just on the legal side of applicable regulations, foods that are edible for people will be made with higher-quality ingredients and have a lower risk of contamination than will those that are made for pets.

That said, pet food manufacturers can (and many do) choose to make their products using ingredients and processes that far exceed the minimums put forward by AAFCO and the FDA. This is true whether or not the pet food is labeled as human-grade.

What to Look for in Human-Grade Dog Food

The biggest problem with the term “human-grade” is that it says nothing with regards to whether the dog food in question is nutritionally complete and balanced. For example, you could feed your dog a diet made from human-grade (in comparison to feed-grade) potatoes, chicken, and supplements, but without more information, you can’t know that it will meet all of your dog’s nutritional needs.

At a minimum, make sure that any food you give to your dog—whether it is human-grade or not—has a statement somewhere on its label that says something along the lines of either of these AAFCO statements that mean that the food is complete and balanced:

Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that Dog Food X provides complete and balanced nutrition.

Dog Food X is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles.

Dog foods that have AAFCO nutritional adequacy statements like these on their labels will, at the very least, meet the minimum standards for a dog's nutritional needs.

Human-Grade Dog Food Options

If you’ve decided that a human-grade food is the right choice for your dog, your next step is to select which type(s) will best meet his needs. The following brands offer human-grade dog food that is formulated to conform to AAFCO nutritional standards.

The Honest Kitchen and Spot Farms both produce several different varieties of dehydrated human-grade dog food, and The Honest Kitchen also offers dry and wet dog food options. Caru’s human-grade stews for dogs are also available in a variety of flavors.

Featured Image: iStock.com/elenaleonova

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